The Philadelphia 76ers (35-17) were in action on the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday. After a disappointing showing against the Pelicans on Friday, they stopped in Oklahoma City to face the Thunder (20-32). The Sixers were looking to get back to their winning ways, while the Thunder were looking to break a five-game losing streak. The Sixers, after a terrible turnover night in New Orleans, committed just 9 turnovers to take care of business against the Thunder, 117-93.
Before we get to the action, some notes.
The Sixers signed veteran forward Anthony Tolliver to a 10-day contract on Saturday morning. Before the game, Doc Rivers said he expected Tolliver to join the Sixers in Dallas or when they return from the road trip. George Hill remained out for this game. The Sixers were also without the services of Danny Green (sore left hip) and Tobias Harris (sore right knee) in this game.
Rivers started Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid.
The Thunder were without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Plantar Fasciitis in right foot), Josh Hall (concussion protocol), Mike Muscala (sprained right ankle), and Isaiah Roby (concussion protocol).
Mark Daigneault started Theo Maledon, Luguentz Dort, Aleksej Pokusevski, Darius Bazley, and Moses Brown.
Embiid settled for a number of jumpers when he could’ve easily forced his way to the rim early in this game. Part of it, I’m sure, is his being protective of the knee he injured. But, I think the big picture factor is that the team is trying to help Simmons break out of this recent slump. So, they’re running a number of sets for him when the matchup is favorable. Given Simmons’ skill set, Embiid has to play farther away from the rim. While it makes sense from an Xs-and-Os perspective, the offense should never be sacrificing Embiid’s touches in the deep post for the sake of running sets for Simmons. The shot value derived from such strategy isn’t high enough to warrant pivoting away from running things through Embiid.
“He’s got to make guys on the other team guard him.”
Of course, as soon as I write that, Simmons starts taking jumpers from the free throw vicinity. It really is a wonder that he refuses to take jumpers given how his stroke looks. His mechanics are quite sound. His release point is high, he holds the follow-through with his shooting arm, and his motion is repeatable and fluid.
Simmons has spoken about his mental health as it pertains to his game a number of times, so one wonders if that bleeds into his willingness to take jumpers. Obviously, I’m not a doctor of any sorts. I have no idea what the discussions are like between Simmons and his professional. But, you see him catch the ball on the perimeter unguarded all the time. He consciously avoids jumpers at all costs. If he thinks there’s a better option there, fine. But, one of his greatest weaknesses is his willingness to jeopardize possessions with risky plays to avoid said jumpers. Unless he adds the finishing touch and aggressiveness at the rim that I have harped on endlessly, the jumper is what must come.
After the game, Embiid touched on Simmons balancing playmaking with scoring. “I tell him all the time, ‘when you drive it in, you know..’ First of all, I want him to be aggressive every single day,” Embiid said. “Whether it’s to make plays or whether he should look for his shot, he’s got to be aggressive. He’s got to make guys on the other team guard him. So, like tonight, we saw it. I was really excited when he made those two shots. He’s starting to be comfortable. He’s getting back to where he was right before All-Star break. So, he’s got to keep on doing it. But, the first thing, he’s a playmaker and he wants to be a playmaker. He wants to get everybody involved. But, at times, you also need to be aggressive and make the other guys on the other teams guard him.”
Shake Milton had a number of ugly defensive possessions in the first half. One featured rookie Jaylen Hoard completely shedding Milton with a smooth spin move before rising for a layup. Another featured the less athletic Svi Mykhailiuk bulldozing his way to the rim and forcing a layup in as if Milton had the physical strength of Flat Stanley. Milton has largely improved on the defensive end of the floor this season. That improvement has come at the expense of his offensive consistency. Neither Milton nor the Sixers can afford to see the offensive woes bleed into his defensive performance.
Embiid was back to his old dominant ways as the half progressed on. He stopped settling for jumpers and got to the rim with a variety of crafty moves. If not that, then he was finding contact and getting to the line. He got to the line 9 times before intermission. Embiid scored 21 points on 10 field goal attempts in the first half. After perhaps struggling with timing a bit since returning from the injury, Embiid also got up to speed with the improvement he’s made as a playmaker out of double-teams this season. He had 3 assists to just 1 turnover in the first half.
Aleksej Pokusevski missed the entire second half with right arm soreness. Hoard started the third quarter in his place.
“Then, when you get a steal from playing good defense, it affects your offense, too.”
Korkmaz often frustrates viewers with his erratic play, but he was excellent on both ends of the floor in this game. If I’m saying that, obviously he was cashing in on three-point looks. Particularly commendable was his will to sacrifice his body to make hustle plays. Korkmaz chased loose balls out of bounds on a number of occasions in this game. He saved various possessions for the Sixers on the offensive end of the floor. On the defensive end, Korkmaz was sensing opportunities for deflections and capitalizing. He forced a number of (and he just missed the first of two free throws as I was typing this, of course) live-ball turnovers to generate transition opportunities for Philadelphia.
Korkmaz thinks those high-effort plays inspire him on both ends. “It motivates me a lot,” Korkmaz said after the game. “Sometimes, when I get in the game, I’m trying to get in the game with offense. But when you start with the defense, like Doc says every time, we got to start with the defense. Then, when you get a steal from playing good defense, it affects your offense, too. That also motivates.”
“When Mike is set with balance, he’s a terrific shooter.”
Mike Scott had one of his best offensive games of the season in the second half. Scott connected on a handful of triples as the Sixers began pulling away with the contest. It appeared as though Scott wasn’t thinking about his shots before letting them go. He just felt the rhythm of the shot as he caught the ball and let it fly from there. Scott is usually a quick trigger, as is. However, he does tend to have a dip between his catch and his rise into a shot. A lot of shooters dip the ball as they prepare their bodies to shoot after catching. But, sometimes it can hurt shooters. Scott kept the ball high between catching and shooting, and it was quite effective for him in this game.
Rives offered some insight into Scott’s up-and-down shooting. “He’s getting his rhythm,” Rivers said after the victory. “I got on him in the first quarter, I think, because he had a wide open shot that he passed off. I told him, ‘That’s not what we want, but be ready to shoot.’ I thought his first shot today missed because he wasn’t ready and he takes shots like that. When Mike is set with balance, he’s a terrific shooter. I thought tonight was the first time in a while where he played with balance. So, we need him to do that more.”
The Sixers (36-17) will conclude their road trip in Dallas against the Mavericks (29-22) on Monday. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM EST. You can catch the game on ESPN.